San Francisco will always have a piece of my heart. It’s where I was born and where I lived the first two years of my life. To a lot of my friends (including Sharon!) and me, it’s “the city” that we went out in, the city that we played in, and/or the city that we worked in. After coming out east for grad school, people often ask what there is to see in San Francisco, so I put together a list of places to visit and whether you’re a first-time visitor or a native Bay Arean, I hope you enjoy/reminisce about your first time there!
Top 10 Places to Go in San Francisco
1. Painted Ladies at Alamo Square
“The Painted Ladies” is a term for Victorian and Edwardian style homes that are painted in three or more colors that emphasize their architectural details. In San Francisco, when you hear about The Painted Ladies, it’s typically in reference to the Victorian homes on 710-720 Steiner Street, which is right across from Alamo Square. These homes were made popular by media, including the classic opening scene from Full House and they’re a must see! These brightly painted wooden homes are parked so closely together and it’s fun to imagine what type of people inhabit these homes.
2. Seward Street Slides
I discovered these cement slides a couple of years ago and they’re so much fun! They’re nestled in the Castro district of San Francisco and can be a bit tough to find. Once you do though, it’s so worth it. Remember to bring cardboard to slide down or sometimes if you’re lucky, you can swoop cardboard there that someone else left behind. Come and unleash your inner kid!
3. Billy Goat Hill
Billy Goat Hill and its swing offer some of the best views of San Francisco. From here, you have all of San Francisco at your footsteps. This is a popular spot though, so if you go during the weekend you may have to wait for your turn at the swing. I went on a weekday though and other than a couple (who were lost in their own world anyways), my friend and I had the hill all to ourselves! #queensofthehill
4. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks is another one of my favorite spots in the city. It’s a great outlook where you can park your car and take in all that San Francisco has to offer. It’s gorgeous in the day and even more beautiful in the night, where you can see all the lights and enjoy a beer or two with a friend. I’ve had some pretty great conversations on top of this hill and I’m sure you will too. It does get pretty cold up here since it’s so windy, so bring a jacket!
5. Coit Tower
Coit Tower is pretty iconic and is one of those touristy places that you have to visit. Even as a local, plenty of people will go on runs there and you can also purchase tickets to go to the top of the tower. Another plus is the free parking. It’s been featured in plenty of movies, most recently in San Andreas where it’s one of the main character’s goals to make it to Coit Tower so she can be rescued from the earthquakes by her father. Hopefully your experience is less intense and you can soak in views of the city that you can’t see anywhere else.
6. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge and its iconic rusty orange color is a historic part of San Francisco. When it first opened in 1937, it was proclaimed as an engineering marvel and was the world’s longest suspension span. You can enjoy the bridge yourself from many different angles, from chilling on the beaches nearby to traveling by boat underneath the bridge. Whatever angle you see it from, it’s beautiful.
7. Sutro Baths at Land’s End
The Sutro Baths were created by Adolph Sutro in 1894. He designed the baths to create a recreational and inexpensive swimming facility for San Franciscans. The baths were filled by the Pacific Ocean and included slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. Since then, it has been converted to an ice skating rink, faced demolition to make way for high rise apartments, and then was destroyed by a fire. What you see now is what has survived since then!
8. Union Square
Union Square is like a much calmer version of New York City’s Time Square. It’s where many people go to shop as it has popular department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and Bloomingdales, but also has high-end stores like Chanel and discount stores like DSW. There’s also a plaza area where there are occasionally special performances (my brother once performed here with his Korean choir) or you can people watch at one of the cafes.
9. Cable Cars
Riding a cable car is one those quintessential San Francisco experiences. You can choose to explore many different spots in the city using the cable car, like Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown (more information below). Many tourists will wait for the cable car at the popular cable car turntable stop near Powell Bart station. To save yourself some time, depending on the route, you can choose to get on the cable car stop that is right after the turntable stop.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and is the oldest Chinatown in North America. It is complete with delicious Chinese restaurants and plenty of boba places. You can find everything from souvenirs to entire chickens here. It is also home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
San Francisco is full of diversity and is home to a progressive, intellectual, talented crowd. When I think of home, I think of the Bay Area, so I may be a little biased (okay, maybe a lot), but I truly think there’s no place like it on Earth. You can visit the SF Bay, have a bonfire near the Pacific Ocean, bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and picnic at one of the many parks. You will likely have a visit from Karl the Fog, but that’s all just part of the experience. And if you’re in town, drop me a note! Sharon and I would love to meet y’all.